The first wool I ever dug my hands into was the fleece of Pia-Lotta the finull sheep (Swedish finewool). Finull wool is my home wool, the wool I feel I know the the best. Finull sheep is one of only three wool breeds in Sweden – breeds where wool is an important part of the breed standards. In this sixth part of my breed study of Swedish sheep breeds from the spinner’s perspective I will share my experience with finull wool. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool, Värmland wool and Jämtland wool.
This Sunday, June 7th at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Swedish finull wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.
About finull sheep
Finull sheep is the first sheep I got to know as a spinner. To me, it is the way a sheep looks, the mother of sheep if you will. I’m sure you have a “home” breed too that you measure all other sheep against.
Finull sheep stem from the Swedish landrace that has grazed Swedish pastures for centuries. It didn’t become it’s own defined breed until the 1980’s. Therefore it shares the common history of the Swedish landraces.
A bit of Swedish sheep history
The Swedish landraces were the only sheep in Sweden until the early 16th century. They most probably originate from the North European short-tailed sheep. They had different kinds of wool with both soft undercoat and coarser outercoat and provided Swedish farmers with carpets, vadmal and coarser textiles. Finer textiles couldn’t be produced with wool from the Swedish landraces. King Gustav Vasa ordered import of “bum sheep (rumpefår) which would mean the fat-tailed sheep from Germany, Great Britain and later Spain, with finer wool. For 300 years Sweden imported these breeds to varying degrees of success. The aim was to exterminate the “harmful Swedish sheep”, but the attempts failed. The farmers needed the coarse wool for the necessary textiles they had always produced.
Decrease, more decrease and increase
During the industrial revolution sheep farming decreased – Sweden imported cheap wool and especially cotton to the spinning mills. Many of the imported breeds and their crosses were removed and replaced with cows. During the First World War the demand for wool from the Swedish landraces increased again. The mills in Sweden couldn’t produce the same kind of lustrous textiles that were found in the museum collections. Breeding was then aimed at saving the old landrace and isolated flocks of Swedish landraces were found in remote areas of Sweden.
Some of these refound flocks had fine wool with lots of shine. They may be a result of crossing the landrace sheep with imported Spanish Merino sheep in the 18th century. The finer wool was also found in Finland (which at the time was part of Sweden). Thetra sheep with finer wool were crossed, first and foremost with Finnish landrace sheep, the first time in 1938. During the Second World War the demand for meat breeds increased and the pure-bred landraces decreased again. In the 1970’s the interest in Swedish landraces increased again and the Swedish finull sheep association was founded in the 1980’s.
Finull sheep today
Swedish finull sheep are fertile and usually get between 2 and 5 lambs. They are quite friendly and calm. The ewes weigh 50–70 kg and the rams 80–100 kg. The statistics from 2019 say 2115 breeding ewes in 161 flocks, but there are lots of finull flocks outside of the sheep breeder’s association too. A lot of finull sheep are also crossed with other breeds – Gotland sheep, texel sheep, rya sheep, Dorset sheep (Findor) and East Frisean milk sheep are common.
Finull sheep are white (61 %), black (23 %) and brown (17 %). The brown sheep have a higher resemblance to the Finnish landrace with a bigger variety in wool fibers, coarser wool and wool on the top of the head.
Finull sheep is one of the three Swedish wool breeds – breeds where wool is an important part of the breed standards. The other two are Jämtland sheep and Rya sheep (coming up soon). It is also one of the breeds that has a part in the new breed Jämtland sheep.
Finull wool is soft, fine and shiny with a high crimp. The difference between undercoat and outercoat is very small. Swedish finull is popular among both hand spinners and Swedish spinning mills. The mills use finull for soft finull yarn but also to mix with Gotland wool since Gotland wool is too slippery to go through the carding machines unmixed.
Since finull is a wool breed there are standards and statistics for the wool. The staples are around 5–9 cm (when shorn twice a year) with an average crimp count of 8 crimps per 3 cm. The shine is around 4 of a scale of 1–5. The standards for the breed encourage breeding for shine, staple and crimp evenness. The micron count should be 20–30 microns and the wool should be even across the body of the sheep.
Most finull sheep are shorn twice a year. I have seen one or two whole-year finull fleeces, but that is an exception. A whole-year fleece will most probably break or felt.
At a course in small-scale shepherding I took back in 2014 I got to shear Pia-Lotta the finull sheep, the sheep whose lamb’s wool was that first wool I spun. You can see more of the wool from this shearing in one of my earliest videos Slow Fashion – from sheep to sweater.
The main characteristics, the superpowers, of finull wool that I want to enhance in a yarn are the shine, softness and crimp.
- Finull wool has a clear and soft shine that I find unusual in a wool with such a high crimp. It takes dye beautifully and reflects the light in a lovely way.
- The fineness and softness of the fibers make finull wool a perfect wool for next-to-skin textiles.
- The high crimp gives the finished yarn an appealing elasticity.
Finull wool is a perfect candidate for carding – the short and crimpy finull staples make plush rolags that are screaming to be long-drawn.
Teasing and carding
I never card unteased wool. I could tease by hand, with combs or with a flick card. As much as I love teasing by hand and with combs, my method for teasing finull wool will be with the flick card. The tips of the fine fibers can be brittle and break in the carding process (especially if there is dirt in the tips), and leave unwanted nepps. If I tease the staples with the flick card, any breaks will stay in the flick card.
This process may seem tedious (and it is), especially considering the short and very thin staples that can be a bit fiddly. However, the time spent flick carding is definitely worth the effort. I end up with soft, even and consistent rolags.
When I have teased the staples I card the cloud as I usually do.
- I load the stationary card with the wool, using only the amount of wool that will stick to the carding pad. I remove any excess.
- To make sure all the wool gets carded I leave a 2 cm frame of the carding pad empty. If I load all the way to the edge there is a risk that the wool “leaks” out on the side and doesn’t get carded at all.
- I card three passes using very light strokes.
- When the wool is carded I make a rolag of the batt with the help of the free card and the back of my free hand. I make a last roll of the rolag between the cards.
I spin finull with a longdraw. Finull fleeces are consistent throughout the body of the sheep and I can make a larger project from one single fleece. Since the wool is so fine and quite short I try to spin with a higher twist than I usually do.
I spin finull wool with a supported spindle, a Navajo spindle (for singles) or a spinning wheel. The draft is smooth and viscous in the loveliest way. Again, this is the wool I feel the most at home with.
I use finull yarn for lots of things, but most preferably next-to-skin garments. Since the wool is so fine I don’t usually use it for more resilient products. I have tried, though. And failed.
One of the first “real” yarns I spun was a Z-plied yarn for a pair of two-end knitted mittens. The yarn was way too loosely spun and the yarn broke a number of times during the knitting process. I did felt the finished mittens to make them sturdier. They have worn out on the thumbs now, though, and been carefully mended.
One of my favourite garments is my Sides and stripes sweater (design by Veera Välimäki). The yarn is the blue 3-ply above spun from a truly beautiful finull fleece. I spun the yarn with English longdraw from hand-carded rolags and the yarn turned out amazingly consistent.
This Sunday, June 7th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Swedish finull from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I prepare, spin and use finull. I will use finull during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I prepare and spin the wool.
Even if you think you will never come across Swedish finull this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool and wool processing in general. The breed study webinar will give you tools to understand different wool types and apply your knowledge to breeds and wool types closer to you.
This is a wonderful chance for me to meet you (in the chat window at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinars I have done have been great successes. I really look forward to seeing you again in this webinar.
You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event. I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. Remember, the only way to get access to the webinar (live or replay) is to register.
The event has already taken place
Stay safe and happy spinning!
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